Toxic friends aren't always as obvious as a trio of scrunchie-wearing Heathers. And, I definitely don't recommend a Veronica Sawyer-inspired solution to ditching toxic friends. Before you get to that point — never get to that point — it's important to be aware of red flags that you're too stressed out by your toxic friend so you can cut the chord in a healthy way. "Toxic friends have a multitude of methods for causing damage: criticism, competition, deception, exclusion, gossip, bullying, resentment, manipulation, inconsistency, and insults just to name a few," Karen Riddell wrote for Psychology Today.
Despite their behavior, Riddell — who is writing a book about female friendships — notes that toxic friends are skilled at hiding their true selves. "Often their behaviors are well masked, buried in solicitous conversation that seems harmless and even kind and caring. It can be so well disguised that we may be almost unaware of the underlying infliction of pain." Hmm, sound familiar?
Almost everyone has at least one toxic friend. Whether it's a new friendship, or one that's been a constant in your life for years, toxic friends can cause a lot of unnecessary stress and chaos in your life. Because it can happen slowly, it might take longer than you think to realize your friend is bad for your mental and physical health. This is why it's important to know how to be able to spot red flags that you're toxic friend is stressing you out.
1. You Avoid Their Texts & Calls
Do you have the one friend who texts you or calls you (the horror) constantly to unload all of their emotional baggage, yet never stops to ask how you're doing? "The conversations are always about their issues, concerns and activities," Riddell noted. "They control when you are together and what you do. When they need something you are there, but the favor is rarely returned."
Yep, that person is toxic AF. If you find yourself taking longer to return their texts, or hitting "ignore" when they call, you're clearly stressed out by your toxic friend's constant need to emotionally hijack you with their dark and twisty energy.
2. They're Never There When You Need Them
A healthy friendship is one in which both people support each other versus a toxic friendship, which is a one-way street. "The only thing they give out is the ability to make you doubt yourself and your choices," relationship expert Ar'nie Krogh told Now To Love. "If you're experiencing negativity, it's time to do something about it."
The first sign you might be in a toxic friendship is the realization that your friend is never there for you. Whether you need a shoulder to cry on, advice, or a favor, toxic friends will always come up with an excuse for why they just can't talk to you or help you, which can leave you feeling emotionally wounded, stressed, and worthless.
3. You're Expected To Drop Everything For Them
A toxic friend might expect you to be at their beck and call no matter what. They think that whatever they or want or need is more important, and they usually expect you to drop everything ASAP when they ask. While helping out a friend is natural, if you're always the one rushing to your friend's side, and they never reciprocate, you might start to dread hanging out with them. And, dread is a sign of anxiety and stress.
"The slight fear or sense of dread—that's anxiety," Alan Henry wrote for Life Hacker. "Before your body feels the effects however, your brain is already at work." If your friend's constant need is overwhelming you to the point that you're experiencing dread, this person is causing you anxiety, which is a clear red flag.
4. You Feel Emotionally Drained After Seeing Them
Healthy friendships inspire feelings of love, joy, and contentment. While this doesn't happen every second of your friendship, the good times should outweigh the bad. If you feel sad and emotionally drained after spending time with someone, that's a huge sign that this toxic friend is stressing you out. What's worse is that you might initially blame yourself for not enjoying the time you spend with this friend. Stop it right now. Trust your gut. If you feel bad after spending time with someone, it's not a healthy relationship.
"I would say [a toxic friend is] someone who, after spending time with them, makes you feel bad about yourself instead of good; someone who tends to be critical of you — sometimes in a subtle way and sometimes not so subtle; a friend who drains you emotionally, financially, or mentally, and they're not very good for you," Psychologist Jenn Berman told WebMD.
5. You Experience Physical Symptoms
If you feel physically ill before, during, or after spending time with a friend, your body is trying to tell you that this person is stressing you out. "You’re somaticizing, actually feeling ill as the stress impacts your body. You get back aches, neck pain — maybe she's really a pain in the neck? Instead of feeling bolstered by your connection, you start feeling weakened," Susan Heitler Ph.D. wrote for Psychology Today. "Your body continues reacting. You feel anxious, get headaches and stomach upset, you have a hard time getting out of bed..."
If this only happens in relation to this particular friend, it's a clear red flag that it's time to cut this person out of your life. "When you’re in a great friendship, it boosts your immune system. But toxic friendships are sickening," Heitler noted. Seriously, with a friend like that who needs enemies? Life is hard enough without your "friends" literally making you sick.
6. You Feel Like You Have To Hide Things
In a one-sided toxic friendship your "friend" usually expects you to swing from the chandeliers when they have good news, which is totally normal. However, what makes it toxic is when this same friend does the opposite when something good happens to you. A toxic friend might begrudge your success and happiness to the point that you begin hiding good things that happen to you from them. "At first, it was so fun to be with her. You laughed, you commiserated, it was such an enjoyable connection," Heitler wrote.
"Then something changed. She flipped. It’s so easy to get into trouble with her now. Better be careful. But then you start being overly careful, watching every word to avoid saying the wrong thing." Walking on eggshells is stressful AF, and if you find yourself having to carefully choose every word around your friend, and feel like you have to withhold information, these mental and emotional gymnastics are a red flag that this person is stressing you out.
7. It's Causing Problems In Your Other Relationships
OK, it's totally normal for some of your friends not to like each other. However, if you find yourself constantly having to defend one friend to all of your other friends, your family, and your partner, it might be time to take a step by and ask yourself why. It's possible that other people might be seeing something that you're not. And, being on the defense all of the damn time is a sign that this friend is causing you too much stress.
Similar to a toxic romantic relationship, some toxic friends might try to isolate you from your other friends until they're all you have left. If you friend is constantly putting down your other friends, and your real friends are all expressing concern about how this friend is treating you, it's time to take a hard look at why you're holding on to this friendship.
8. You Develop Serious Health Problems
While toxic friends can cause you massive amounts of mental stress, CBS News reported in 2016 that a UCLA study revealed they can also contribute to serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. "This study is suggesting that there’s more to it than just a psychological impact, that it may be related to health outcomes and diseases that are very common and very severe," Dr. Daniel Yadager told CBS New York. If you develop an unexplained medical condition, and you're also in a toxic friendship, there could be a connection.
"We like to think that friendship is something that everyone can handle. It’s so much harder to say, 'my friend is making me ill,'" Dr. Yager told CBS New York. While ending a toxic friendship can often be more difficult than leaving a bad romance, it's worth it to regain control of your mental and physical health. Because, that's the least you deserve, so do yourself a favor and wave bye, bye, bye to that toxic friend.